This is difficult for most Bollywood producers to believe, but there are actually those among us who do not structure their Fridays around Salman Khan's newest release. Those people may have felt hope blossom in their heart when they saw this Friday's release is One By Two, starring indie darling Abhay Deol and directed by Devika Bhagat who wrote the screenplay for films like Manorama Six Feet Under, Ladies vs Ricky Bahl and Jab Tak Hai Jaan. For all those who thought this may be a promising combination, I have two letters for you: Ha!
Amit (Deol) works in a company that has an open office plan and whose work has something to do with computers. His mum (Rati Agnihotri) wants him to get married while his father (Jayant Kripalani) has chosen to focus his energies on playing ping pong on the dining table with his wife. Amit's uncle (Darshan Jariwala) is a poetry-spouting Mumbai cop. When Amit is dumped by long-time girlfriend Radhika, he mopes around.
Somewhere else in Mumbai, in an apartment that will make many seriously consider becoming an industrialist's extramarital love interest if this is the kind of real estate that one gets in return, is Samara Patel (Preeti Desai). Samara is an aspiring dancer who has a rather sweet deal from life. She is an illegitimate child of a married industrialist (Anish Trivedi) and his mistress (Lillette Dubey, playing a middle-aged, alcoholic single woman. Again). In exchange for these woes, Samara lives in a beautiful home, has no financial worries, has a few good friends and a MacbookPro.
In an attempt to be a career woman and a true artist, Samara decides to enter Dance Wars, a television dance contest. The concept of the show is that contestants dance, the audience votes live and by the end of the show, one contestant is eliminated. Around the same time that Samara decides to enter Dance Wars, Amit learns Radhika's new boyfriend is the show's producer and comes up with a plan to win Radhika back. Using his super hacking skills, Amit will destroy Dance Wars by hacking the show's website with two friends and tampering with the results. They'll ensure the best dancer has the lowest votes. Why? Because if the best dancer is repeatedly kicked off, then producers will get upset with the producer and fire him, which will make Radhika see her boyfriend as a loser so she'll dump him and run back into Amit's arms. Obviously.
Aside from the fact that Bhagat has clearly not watched enough dance shows (talent and votes are rarely connected, especially early in a season), this seems like a good moment to point out Amit is in his late 20s at the very least. Not that you'd guess from the way he and his friends think and the giggly glee that farts elicit from them.
One of the contestants who loses out thanks to Amit's harebrained scheme is Samara. However, if Amit's strategy was to have the worst dancers advance on the show, Samara should have been the winner. Samara's moves begin and end with tossing her hair and levering herself upright from a reclining position. Considering Preeti Desai's inability to emote, her terrible Hindi and the fact that she has clearly not put in an iota of work into studying dance, you've got to wonder whether Desai would have been considered for this role if she wasn't dating the hero and producer of the film.
While Samara's non-existent career is going nowhere, to make his mum happy, Amit meets a marriage candidate, Shishika (Yashika Dhillon). The arranged marriage setup follows predictably — it's a disaster. She's obnoxious. He's boring. They don't get along, so obviously the wedding is set for next month. And being the urban, educated, gainfully employed, joint-smoking, jhatka-maro-ing youth, neither Amit nor Shishika protest. At least Shishika has a reason for doing so. Amit doesn't.
Perhaps as a reference to Schrodinger's cat, things happen even as nothing happens in One By Two. The film waffles along, showing various moments where Amit and Samara's lives intersect but don't give them a chance to actually meet. This would seem a shame if it wasn't for the fact that the basis of their emotional connection eventually turns out to be tissue paper, farts and fecal metaphors. That's not the beginning of a happy relationship. One By Two offers one of the least insightful and most shallow portraits of India's urban youth. If the upcoming generation of Indian men is really like the ones in the film, I predict a sharp and dramatic rise in the country's lesbian population in the next census survey.
Here's what's truly disappointing about the non-masala Bollywood bandwagon that brings out films like One By Two. At least those who are out to make blockbusters give their audience what they want — Salman Khan roaring like a lion, Aamir Khan riding a bike that turns into a boat, forgettable heroines in barely-there clothing and so on. Filmmakers like Devika Bhagat and actors like Abhay Deol encourage audiences to expect something different from them. Then they go and borrow bits from existing works — fecal humour from Delhi Belly; an everyman hero who is constantly being heartbroken, like Ted from How I Met Your Mother; every other clichéd trope, from mousy Bengalis to friends who first snipe at each other and then become lovers. Films like One By Two are an attempt at a compromise between masala Bollywood and smart storytelling. Like so many compromises, it isn't fun and it's distasteful to both parties.